We’re not huge Disney fans but we know the magic of Disney World for a child, so when a friend allowed us to use their three-bedroom condo in Orlando, we decided it was a great time to make a trip for the grandkids happen. They were eight, six, and five when we went.
With the trip on the calendar, we began to plan for our week in Disney. We chose to visit four parks in a week: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. If we had to do it all over again, we all agreed that three parks would have been enough and we probably would not do Hollywood Studios. Why? Because first, still to this day, one of the things the kids remember as their favorite part of the week was swimming at the condo. We could have used three park days and two swimming days and it would have been a great week! Second, there just wasn’t as much to do at Hollywood Studios. There were a few neat things, but not nearly as much for younger kids.
Got a trip you’re planning to Disney? Here are twenty other tips that came from our experience or the experience of moms we know:
Buy Disney gift cards at Target using the Target RedCard for a 5% discount.
This is how we purchased our Disney park admission and how we carried a limited amount of spending money at the park. The Target Redcard gives you a 5% discount on any purchase at Target. This includes gift cards and they have Disney giftcards! This is a great way to save 5% on your Disney trip! If you don’t have a Target Redcard, it’s easy to apply for. They have a credit card Redcard and a debit card Redcard. I recommend the debit card option because it doesn’t require a credit check or even go on your credit. It just links directly to your checking account! Note: Some people recommend not purchasing more than $500 in one transaction so due to the possibility of a Target employee limiting them. There’s no written policy on that, but some folks indicate that it has happened to them.
Use the services of a Disney specialist.
There’s no additional cost to you at all and they really understand the parks and how to navigate them well. They know which rides to get fast passes for and what time is the best time to try to get fast passes. They will even get the fast passes for you if you’d like! We used Emily at Wishing Well Travel. Her services are FREE!
Download the My Disney Experience app for your smartphone.
This is where you’ll get your fast passes, make restaurant reservations, and even see real time updates on wait times for rides and attractions.
Bring your own food.
There are lockers right inside each of the parks. Food is expensive at the parks so choosing to do an occasional snack or even meal there is fine if it fits into your budget, but you can save a great deal of money by packing your own picnic and snacks. Since none of our kids were small enough to ride in a stroller, we used backpacks to carry our water and snacks. If you do decide to eat at a sit-down restaurant in the park, you need to make reservations and the easiest way to do that is through the Disney app.
Collect and Trade Pins
A fun activity kids can do at Disney is collect and trade pins. You can start out with a starter set found at a discount on Ebay or Etsy. These usually include a lanyard and four or five pins. You can also buy bulk pins on Ebay or Etsy. Most cast members (park employees) wear lanyards with pins. Your kids can ask a cast member to trade with them. This allows them to collect the pins they’d like to have. It becomes a bit of an “I Spy” game as you navigate the parks and go in and out of attractions.
Buy needed items ahead of time.
There were some very hot days on the week we were in Disney. We finally broke down and bought a water bottle fan in the park. Had I thought ahead, we could have picked one up for each of us at Dollar Tree or Walmart before our trip for a quarter of the cost of picking up one in the park. The fan with the spray mist was a delightful relief from the extreme heat. Here are some other things you might want to buy ahead of time:
- rain ponchos
- glow sticks (Dollar Tree)
- plastic tablecloths (Dollar Tree)
- water bottles (freeze them 3/4 full and then take them to the park frozen, adding water throughout the day)
- Disney mouse ears (lots of affordable options on Etsy!)
Download the free Charades Pictures app on your smartphone.
This game kept the kids busy in a multitude of lines! If you want to see how it works, I have a video of the grandkids playing it on my Instagram stories highlights (look for the one labeled “Disney” and ignore the 2nd and 3rd stories which for some reason recorded sideways–thank goodness they’re only 15 seconds long!).
Wear hats and comfy shoes.
Disney isn’t a place for sandals or flip-flops. Tennis shoes are the best option for your feet because you’ll be doing sooooo much walking! Wearing a hat or visor can be helpful for keeping the sun out of your eyes and off your face.
Dress everyone in your group in similar colors.
It gets really chaotic sometimes in the crowded parks. If you know the color of shirt you’re looking for, it can help you keep an eye on everyone! (If you want, put swimsuits on underneath your kids clothes. There are splash pads in both Magic Kingdom and Epcot that they can enjoy and cool off.)
You also might want to make phone number bracelets for young children (phone number only…no name). Disney is crowded and should you become separated from each other, a phone number bracelet can be helpful in finding each other.
Did you know that crowds tend to naturally go to the right? So if you have an option of left or right to get in line…go left!
Plan extra travel time to park and get into the parks.
It’s quite a process to get into a Disney park. First there’s the traffic, then finding a place to park, and then getting through the gates. Plan extra travel time to and from the parks.
If you visit Epcot, you might want to get the kids a Kidcot Passport to get stamped in each country area. This turns Epcot into a bit of a scavenger hunt.
There’s a craft area in some of the countries and the kids can also learn how to say hello in the language of that country.
Magic Kingdom Hint
If you stay for the fireworks, you’ll want to stake out a place to land about an hour before the fireworks start. FYI: it will get very crowded and eventually you’ll need to move from sitting to standing. People do not sit for the fireworks. They stand for them and you may find it helpful to put your kids on your shoulders.
Animal Kingdom Hints
Do the safari in the morning if you can so you can see more of the animals before it’s too hot. You’ll also want to have your kids do the Wilderness Explorers Club. This is a self-guided activity that let’s you explore all of Animal Kingdom. To participate explorers visit kiosks, complete simple tasks, and earn a matching badge at each station. Students from the countries represented in Animal Kingdom are at each kiosk and they do a great job telling the kids about their country and the animals in it.
Take a break.
If you stay at a Disney property, you can easily take a break to rest in the afternoon and go back in the evening. If you stay in a hotel or local condo you can still do that, but it’s not quite as convenient. You might want to plan out your day with a break in mind!
Have realistic expectations.
Focus on and enjoy what you can. Remind yourself that you don’t have to see or do everything. Don’t schedule too much into your days. Allow yourself to travel at your child’s pace.
Know the terminology.
- Fast Pass: This allows you to select certain rides and attractions and go to the front of the line. There’s no additional cost for FastPast service–it’s included with your park admission. You can begin making your FastPass+ selections at 7:00 AM Eastern Time up to 30 days in advance of your visit. If you are staying at a Disney Resort hotel, you can make your FastPass+ selections up to 60 days prior to check-in for the entire length of your stay. This is one reason we loved using Emily’s services because she got up and reserved the fast passes for us on the 30th day before our trip!
- MagicBand: A MagicBand enables you to travel lighter throughout your vacation. Use it to enter the parks, unlock your Disney Resort hotel room and buy food and merchandise. Plus, a MagicBand gives you FastPass+ access to all the experiences you’ve selected online. If you’re staying at a Walt Disney Resort Hotel or are an annual pass holder, you should receive a MagicBand with your pass or at check-in. If you stay off-site, you can use a MagicBand but you’ll need to purchase them online or in select stores. We didn’t use these.
- Memory Maker Photo Pass: Memory Maker is a way to enjoy unlimited digital Disney PhotoPass photos captured at hundreds of locations throughout all Disney properties. The photos are conveniently connected to your online Disney account associated with your My Disney Experience app. It costs $169 if you purchase it before your trip and $199 if you purchase it at the park or after your visit. We did not do this because we had enough adults to have someone designated to take most of the pictures.
Make your own memory autograph books.
We gave each of the kids an index card flip book and a retractable permanent marker for them to get character autographs (actually we kept the books and markers in our backpacks and pulled them out each time they met a character). I also snapped a picture of them with each of the characters. After our trip, I put together a 4 x 6 photo album for each of the kids with a picture of them with the character opposite the character’s autograph! It’s was a great way to remember the highlights of their experience!
Carry sticky notes with you for automatic toilet sensors.
If you have a child who is scared by the loud sound of automatic toilets, carry sticky notes with you to put over the toilet sensors. There are loud automatic toilets in every Disney park. This is a tip we learned AFTER our trip and it would have come in so handy as we have a granddaughter who is highly sensitive to loud sounds.
Ask for a disability pass if anyone in your group has trouble standing for long lines, etc.
Disney is known for it’s customer service for special needs. If you have a child or adult with special needs or a disability that keeps them from being able to stand for a long time, you can request a disability pass.
If you’ve been to Disney, what other tips would you add to this list?
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